HL Deb 24 July 2002 vol 638 cc369-71

3 p.m.

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they assess the part played by alcopops in contributing to the problem of drinking by young persons.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the Government are aware of the need to take action to combat alcohol misuse among young people. This issue will be examined as part of the Government's alcohol harm reduction strategy. The department monitors the consumption of alcopops and other drinks by young people on an annual basis.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does she agree that the majority of parents wish to encourage their teenage children to drink in moderation and safely, and that the existence of alcopops—designed to appear like lemonade; sweet, syrupy, and perhaps seductive to children—undermines the intention of parents, encourages young children to drink to excess, and therefore weakens the Government's whole policy?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I recognise that there have been concerns about alcopops for some time and I have every sympathy for parents who are struggling with the issue in relation to their children. However, we should recognise that teenage drinking levels have been increasing over the past decade and are not actually linked to alcopops. I think that the most effective action that we can take is to ensure that young people have all the available information on the harm that alcohol can cause, and have and enforce the laws that we need to stop the underage purchasing of alcohol.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, although we may not be described as young persons, I wonder whether alcopops are sold in the House.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I am very pleased to say that I have no idea.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, not so very long ago, a presentation was made by the doctors and young patients at a Liverpool hospital which outlined a very alarming increase in underage drinking particularly in that area, for which they laid the blame at the feet of manufacturers making and marketing what are known as alcopops? The industry, quite naturally, has always denied that alcopops are aimed specifically at children. However, it has lately been noticeable that they have changed and toned down the labelling and packaging of alcopops. Is it not revealing that a company such as Cadbury Schweppes—which has a very high moral attitude in the manufacturing and marketing of its products—will have nothing whatever to do with them?

Baroness Andrews

Yes, my Lords, that is extremely interesting. The advertising of alcopops, like that of alcohol generally, is bound by the general rules for advertising and the specific rules relating to alcohol. We are grateful for the efforts of the Portman Group in promoting responsible advertising. The fact is that we have received very few complaints about alcohol advertising overall, which I think indicates that some responsibility is being exercised. I also do not think that young people are influenced entirely by advertising. There is a cultural issue here. We have to address that, and it is very difficult.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the national alcohol strategy will be out for consultation this summer? Does she agree that the issue of young people's drinking, including alcopops, is a matter for interdepartmental awareness and action involving the departments responsible for education, health, social services and sales? Can she also confirm that the Government will develop an interdepartmental approach to the issue?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the strategy is out for consultation and will include a very strong element of intelligence about young people's drinking. We also have an interdepartmental policy in terms of the work being done by the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Health to promote health standards in schools. They will use the extra money that we are allocating to provide information on substance misuse, in the most effective way possible, to both schools and the community.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, in 1997, the Government established a ministerial group on alcopops. How many times has this group met? What advice has it given on the availability of alcopops and the consequent effect on alcohol consumption?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I have no information on the group, but I should be pleased to write to the noble Lord to give him the available information.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, has the Minister taken note of the experience in Scotland, where the alcohol strategy has been out for some time, and where particular emphasis is placed on trying to discourage drinking among young people? Could not England and Wales learn from the experience of Scotland?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, we are on track to deliver the alcohol strategy by 2004. This week the Prime Minister announced that the Cabinet Office strategy unit would look specifically at the question of the harm done by alcohol and will report in April 2003. I am sure that there are always things that we can learn from Scotland.

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